“And… Princess of the week is…!”
We’re all sitting around the table, tapping our fingers excitedly against the wood as Mr Brady pulls a name from the pot.
To be Princess of the week is to get the crew to do whatever you please and whenever. You can use the power with dignity, or abuse it.
My eyebrows rise in surprise as I stare at the grinning faces around me. The English side of me immediately goes into Theatre mode.
“I promise to be a just and fair ruler,” I say grandly, dipping with a slight bow.
“You get to pick your Princess name,” Karin says, her blond plait swung over one shoulder as she cuddles up to Brian.
“Yeah, what do you want to be called by?” Alex asks.
I swing my hand in the air in a grand gesture of royal thought. “I think Your Majesty will suffice,” I said at last. “Or you may call me Your Grace.”
Brady bows slightly. “Your Grace, would you like a Princess name as well?”
“I think Queen Elizabeth suits me just fine.”
And so, I am Princess for the week- the power is mine. I can demand whatever I want! The Delos Crew will bow down at my glorious reign and worship me-
But I wasn’t very good at being a Princess.
The most I ever asked for was a drink.
“Um, Alex, is it ok if I could possibly have a cup of water, please?” I would ask, trapped by the rest of the crew around the table as we ate dinner. “If it isn’t too much trouble…”
Days went past and the only times I managed to demand anything was because we were a little bit tipsy.
“Austria!” I called at a house party as I lay down on the sofa. “I demand a head rub!”
Lisa shuffled over and obeyed.
Still running with a Queenly air, I demanded that Brian carried me to the dingy across the beach so I wouldn’t get my feet wet.
“Anything for the Princess!” he announced, sweeping me off my feet.
“You are a very loyal subject…hiccup!” I slurred as I was placed inside.
I completed my reign with picking a movie for us all to watch and finally I arranged a Princess Party, for all of my loyal subjects to attend.
I called it “Princess and Peasants Party.”
But I deemed everyone should be a Princess, demanding that we all dressed up in our finest and brightest. We had made some amazing friends in Walvis Bay and they arrived onto the boat ready for the festivities.
Our wonderful Austrian had arranged the music and we sat everyone down, doing each person’s tribal/pirate/princess make up in term.
“Open your eyes, Brian!” I demanded, attempted to put eyeliner on our Captain.
“It burns!” he protested, scrunching them shut.
“It will if you keep doing that! Now man up!”
Brady was a lot better in receiving some guyliner and was swept up in his pirate character immediately.
We posed for so many photographs that night, excited for camping the next day. We had contacted Mat when we were in Cape Town to help Lisa with her camera being imported from Austria and we had fast become friends. Mat had arranged for us to go on an adventure together to the desert in Africa, hoping to see elephants, rhinos and anything else that we had seen on David Attenborough’s Africa Series. Our friends Paul and Amy brought their dog, Maverick. Maverick trotted on with a giant flower headband wrapped around her pretty head, her tail wagging at the sight of everyone. Loki allowed himself to be bronzed up by the girls, lipstick and mascara applied a-plenty. We thought he looked beautiful.
The night continued with much singing, laughing, twirling and drinking plenty of that good old moonshine.
I wasn’t sure whether I was excited for camping. The Delos Crew were all very outdoorsy people, keen to see sunsets, sunrises, the moon in all stages and loved to hike.
In England I couldn’t remember one instance where my friends and I would meet up just to see the sunset. That sort of thing would be met with, “Eh? Yer soft or somethin’?”
The only time I saw the sunrise was when I tottered in from a night out, squinting and hissing at the first rays as I fumbled with the front door keys.
But now I have a new appreciation of them. Not just because they look pretty. That’s not the point. The point is to take a moment out of your day and to watch. Watch and be in awe of what is life, and the fact that you are there to witness something like that. The fact that you are alive.
It’s about taking a moment and just being.
That’s one of the most important things I intend on taking with me wherever I end up in the world.
But camping, I had a different kind of reservation with. All of my experiences with camping had been messy. Very messy.
They included trips with my lad mates from back home in the Midlands, pitching up a tent on a sloping hill, spilt beers, hotboxing it with farts and someone inevitably peeing in their sleep (not me). Squeezing about fifteen lads in there for a stag do was an added experience.
What were you doing on a stag do, I hear you ask? I know the only women usually allowed on a stag do are vienna escorts, but this was an exception.
“We don’t see you as a girl, Liz,” was the sentence that came before I was asked. I wasn’t sure whether to be honoured or not.
So I wasn’t decided whether I was going to enjoy camping out in the desert. I already was finding sand in all sorts of places from our previous excursions in the desert and I was reluctant to hike everywhere in the heat.
Hey, I’m just being honest, yo.
We woke early in the morning and packed up Maggie to the brim with bags of clothes, camera equipment and anything else we thought we would need.
Loki came along in his van, Brady sitting up front with him. The rest of us were content in Mat’s Land Rover, laughing, joking and singing along to some country music. We stopped off halfway for breakfast, needing a good old fry up to fix our mild hangovers.
Loki is a paramedic and tells us about his B12 shots.
“It’s a health concoction of vitamins- it gets rid of hangovers immediately,” he says grandly. “It’s a B-complex- good for energy, severe dehydration and blood loss.” Brady looks at us and tils his head. “So, er… have you got any of them going free, mate?”
Loki doesn’t have to be asked twice. I bite my lip as he prepares one for Alex and Brady.
Do it! Do it! Do it! My brain screams.
“Can I have one too?”
My mouth moved and I wasn’t even aware of it.
Loki prepares a third syringe and it isn’t long before we’re hiding behind the Land Rover with our shorts over our backsides.
Within an instant, I’m standing with the SV Delos crew staring as Loki quickly stabs my left bum cheek with the syringe. It’s over within a moment and I’m jumping up and down, thinking how on earth I had gotten to that place in my life. I couldn’t possibly have imagined this time last year I would be getting my ass cheek injected with a B12 complex alongside Mr Brady.
Whoa, what a life, hey?
When the three of us have completed our B12 injections, it wasn’t long before we were all carted up in Mat’s giant Land Rover, our gear packed up in the trailer, the desert spinning up golden clouds behind the wheels. Brian sat in the front with Mat, myself in the middle with Alex and Brady and Lisa and Karin cosied up in the very back. Loki had work so bid us goodbye.
The windows were rolled down, the sun was streaming in and we were lying contentedly, limbs intertwined with each other as we attempted to find the most comfortable position. I don’t know if I felt a difference with the injection- I certainly didn’t feel as though I had spent a night of drinking the previous night. All I knew was that people commented that Alex, Brady and I smelt funny as we sweated it out.
Onwards we drove, stopping for pee breaks, more fuel and the odd shipwreck along the coast.
Hours passed and the horizon and heat changed. We went from freezing windy weather in Walvis to the burning and sweltering heat of further inland Africa. The cliff faces became a rounded collection of random rocks, perched upon each other haphazardly, defying the laws of gravity. We passed tiny random huts in the middle of nowhere, girls dressed in ornate dresses dancing around in circles in an attempt to stop tourists along the road.
We stared open mouthed out of the windows, dust settling at the back of our throats and our scarfs wrapped around our heads.
We were squashed in with one another, sweating, hot and definitely not smelling the best. But we all had silly grins on our faces as the sun rose and started to dip, our destination becoming closer and closer.
A young man passed up ahead on a cart with two horses and a donkey. We pulled over instantly, Brian asking if he could have a ride.
Brady gave the lad a beer, a cigarette and exchanged friendly conversation as I sheepishly asked if I could ride on too.
The young lad was only too happy to oblige as Brian and I rather ungracefully seated ourselves at the front. I held onto Brian’s arm for dear life, the seat of which my backside was perched, a thin metal step leading to a dip and a small metal box stuffed with pillows.
The ground span beneath us, the horses kicking up rocks and sand with giant beetles scuttling away in haste. We turned back and returned to the Land Rover, my hands leaving a clammy mark on Brian’s arm in my trepidation/excitement for the ride.
“Sorry!” I mumbled jumping off the carriage.
We decided we wanted to leave something for him to say thanks as we all gathered for a polaroid picture.
“Models assemble!” Brady called, gesturing for all of the girls to crowd around him.
Laughing, we took two pictures and gave him the better one. With a wide grin he nodded his thanks and tucked it very carefully into his pocket.
We had dawdled long enough it seemed as he trotted happily away, and we retreated back to the confines of Mat’s Land Rover.
The campsite we arrived at was nothing like I had expected. We pulled up into what appeared like paradise, trees looming over us and strange rock formations standing crookedly against the sun. Tall grass surrounded us, clear patches of sand begging to be walked through.
There was a small bar at the registration office, with toilets and even a small pool.
We groaned at the sight of it, itching to take off our sweaty and dust filled clothing. Making camp, we pulled out the BBQ and investigated our area. We were far away from the bar and pool, situated by fields of tall grass. Our camp was half enclosed by trees and rocks, a tree house styled open toilet and shower that overlooked the beautiful African desert.
As we cracked open beers and the sun set across the golden planes, I shook my head, feeling myself unable to believe I was there.
And then I saw it.
Everyone stood still for a long while, staring out into the sky. The sun was a luminous scarlet, bleeding colour into the sky. Cerise, yellows, oranges and bright pinks seeped from the horizon and spilt onto the land, cascading everything in a multi-coloured glow. Everything was suddenly awash with colours that burned my eyes.
I refused to look away until it died down behind the mountainside, Mat lending me his binoculars so I could have a better look.
The land seemed to give a sigh as the sun finally retreated, coolness spreading across the planes as the earth prepared for the arrival of the moon and stars.
And in that moment, I was content, a gin and tonic in hand and the promise of a delicious feast that night.
Once the sun had gone down, I had drawn out a huge circle in the sand, indenting the ground with patterns and swirls to pounce onto. I don’t know why- maybe it was because it felt symbolic- drawing a line in the sand, if you forgive the pun. The rest of the group were relaxing and chatting around the table, content and relaxed as we switched on a few solar lights to illuminate our site. We had come away to relax, to get away from our laptops, editing and other work. I could have happily sat down with my gin and tonic and joined in with the conversation.
But the music was playing and I couldn’t sit.
So I danced beneath the African moon, beating my heartbeat into the sand with every stomp, twist and turn.
I was so conscious of the stars that night. I could see the Milky Way bursting across the sky. I’m still astounded how each night I can see it so clearly. And even though no one was dancing with me, I felt good. I felt so damn good. I breathed in the night air, imagining that the energy from the stars were filling my lungs, envisioning all of the things I didn’t want to feel anymore escaping my body with every exhale.
It was a cleansing experience.
Because it didn’t matter if no one was dancing with me. I wrote people’s names in the sand of whom I love and I danced in their honour. I imagined them within the circle I had drawn in the sand. I imagined them here with me, standing opposite me, smiling and moving with the music as I was.
The person at the forefront of my thoughts was my sister. This is the longest time I have been without her. This is the longest time I have been without her by my side.
The African insects climbed over my body as I continued to dance, continued to pounce, continued to hold onto the image that she was with me, laughing with me, holding my hands and joining in with every step.
I miss her.
But I know she understands.
She knows why I’m here.
God, I’m so lucky.
I pause for a moment to catch my breath. A laugh escapes my throat as I turn around slowly, breathing in the night air, my toes sliding beneath the sand with each pace.
I write her name in the sand with my fingers and slide on one of our favourite songs, Waves by Mr Probz. I jump up and down and scrunch my eyes shut, imagining her here with me, laughing, joking and twisting and turning, joining me in each beat as we stamp out our joy in the sand.
And for a moment I could feel her energy with me, across all of those miles, lands and oceans.
Gratitude hit me as I danced like a madwoman. Gratitude for this journey. Gratitude for the opportunity. Gratitude for these amazing people- my Delos family. And gratitude for the family I have at home.
I’m so grateful that I feel as though my heart could burst.
Thank you for this life. Thank you for this love. Thank you for these people. This world.
I couldn’t think of a way to express any of this, to honour it- to commemorate it.
So I danced some more.
Read more from Elizabeth at www.earlewrites.com !